Griffins close out season with 3-0 loss at powerhouse Brandon

MacEwan Griffins players huddle around graduating senior Kai Hesthammer (#8) after their final game of the 2018-19 season on Saturday night in Brandon, Man. (Milana Paddock, Brandon University Athletics).
MacEwan Griffins players huddle around graduating senior Kai Hesthammer (#8) after their final game of the 2018-19 season on Saturday night in Brandon, Man. (Milana Paddock, Brandon University Athletics).

MacEwan Athletics and Brandon Athletics

BRANDON, Man. – At times, the MacEwan Griffins hung with U SPORTS No. 1 Brandon on Saturday night.

But, in the end, the Bobcats proved why they have their lofty ranking, recording a 3-0 win (25-19, 25-19, 25-17) to finish an impressive 20-2 regular season that leaves them the favourites to win both the Canada West and U SPORTS championships in the coming weeks.

"We played with them in stretches," said MacEwan head coach Brad Poplawski, whose team will finish 3-19. "We made the comment to the guys after that team's relentless. It's almost suffocating playing against them because they just come at you with their serve and their block. They can pile up points pretty quick. They can earn points with their serve and then they side out well.

"It's tough because we did a lot of pretty good things, but they're very relentless and just kept coming at us. In streaks we looked pretty good, but they just found a way."

The Bobcats and Griffins went back and forth for the majority of the first set until the Bobcats picked up the first big surge of momentum late in the frame. BU closed out the opening act on a 6-2 run while hitting .458.

Brandon's offence caught fire early in the second with a 7-2 run to put them out in front 11-6. In the late stages of the second, the Griffins cut the deficit to three, but that is as close as they would get. The Bobcats' attack efficiency was well polished in the second at .464.

The Bobcats saved the best for last in the third operating at a .520 clip with just two errors. The 'Cats collected 15 kills on 25 attempts in the process. BU's sweep in the season finale was built on an early 8-0 run.

Elliott Viles had a match-high 12 kills, while Mason Metcalf was next with 10 kills and five blocks. Robin Baghdady scored seven kills on nine swings with just one error, while adding a match-high eight digs.

Graduating senior Kai Hesthammer had seven kills and five digs in the final game of his Griffins career. Max Vriend added seven kills, while Jordan Peters netted his 17th service ace of the season to match the MacEwan Canada West single season record that he previously shared with Vriend.

Poplawski will have time to fully assess the season in coming weeks as he aims to find a way to push for a playoff spot in 2019-20.

"All you have to say is it's Canada West volleyball. It's an absolute beast of a league," he said. "I think our record doesn't indicate who we are as a team. I think we have some really good pieces and at times can do some really good things. It's just unfortunate we weren't able to get more out of our season record-wise.

"We're disappointed where the year went record-wise, but we're not disappointed with the work put in and our attention to detail."

Poplawski noted they had some unforeseen personnel losses prior to the season that forced younger players into the starting lineup.

"Due to the unexpected loss of two pretty key players from last year's team – guys we were planning on building around – that really changed the dynamics of our group," he said. "It maybe had some guys playing in spots they maybe weren't quite ready for. But it did give them an opportunity to sink or swim and at times I saw guys really run with those roles. With those circumstances came opportunity for some guys.

"We maybe had to fast track some things we had a longer-term plan for and in this league it's really tough to be developing and also expected to perform every weekend," he added. "Typically, guys hone their craft and they're ready in their second, third or fourth year. We had to speed up that process for some guys and it showed at times with some of our errors and inexperience.

"There's a lot of work to do moving forward, but I think for the most part, I'm happy with the progress of a lot of our guys this year."